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Construction on the Allison Mansion began in 1911 and took three years to complete at a reported cost of $2 million. Indianapolis architect Herbert Bass was responsible for the building's original design; but after being impressed by the design of his neighbor Frank Wheeler's newly constructed mansion, Allison fired Bass and hired Wheeler's architect, William Price of the Philadelphia firm Price and McLanahan, to complete the interior. Dubbed the "House of Wonders," the Allison Mansion contained many state-of-the-art conveniences, including an elevator, a central vacuum system, a telephone intercom system, automatically lighted closets, pumped-in ice water, an indoor swimming pool, and sophisticated indirect lighting systems. With its magnificent 64-acre landscape designed by master landscape architect Jens Jensen (see separate description of the Marian College EcoLab), the James A. Allison estate (Riverdale) is an excellent example of an American Country Place Era estate. Currently used by Marian College as a conference/reception/event facility, the mansion is structurally sound but needs significant repairs/upgrades to the roof, electrical system, heating and air conditioning system, and plumbing and needs to improve accessibility.
In addition to its historical and architectural significance, Allison Mansion is also important because of its association with James A. Allison, a nationally recognized entrepreneur in the automobile industry and a co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its internationally recognized signature event, the Indianapolis 500. Allison was also an important figure in the early history of Indianapolis. He was a leading local businessman, a leader in the fledgling automobile industry then flourishing in Indianapolis, and a member of the Board of Directors of the prominent Fletcher National Bank.
Finally, the Allison Mansion is significant to the history of Marian College, which was founded in Indianapolis by the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, IN in 1937. Originally a Catholic college for women, Marian opened its doors at the Allison Mansion with a staff of 16 and 24 full-time students. From 1937 until 1949, the entire college was housed in the mansion and its outbuildings. Marian College was (and remains today) the only private Catholic liberal arts college in the greater Indianapolis area, and with the admission of men in 1954, it was the first Catholic co-educational college in the state.
The Mansions of Marian. Indianapolis, IN: Marian College, ca. 1990.
Sprague, Jane C. Allison Mansion [Marian College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1970.